LEE WINS FOURTH PLAYOFF HOLE TO CLAIM BASS PRO SHOPS/PAYNE STEWART JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
Then is now a Champion, wins Girls Division at Rivercut Golf Course
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Jeffrey Lee of Overland Park, Kan., stuck his tee shot to within three feet on the fourth hole of a dramatic playoff and ultimately birdied No. 17 to claim the Boys Division of the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship. Gabriella Then of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., squeaked out a two-stroke victory in the Girls Division after signing for a 3-under-par 69 during Thursday's final round, and an even-par 216 for the tournament.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship was a 54-hole stroke play event held at Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield, Mo. The tournament field consisted of 75 boys and 24 girls, ages 12-18, from 20 states and Canada. The Boys Division played the par-72 Rivercut Golf Course at 6,962 yards and the Girls Division played at 6,010 yards.
Lee began the day three strokes back of the second-round leaders and stood at 7-under-par before his bogey on No. 18 dropped him to 6-under and a tie for the lead with Fletcher Johnson of Belden, Miss. When Reid Holly of Madison, Miss., also came in at 6-under-par, the stage was set for a three-way playoff.
The group played No. 18 three times in a row; on the first trip, Lee landed his third shot just feet from the pin, but was unable to sink the birdie putt. Nobody blinked until the third try on the hole, when Holly was unable to save par after missing the green.
The last two standing moved to No. 17, where Lee already had a birdie earlier in the day.
“I birdied that hole during the round, and I hit exactly the same shot as I did earlier and my ball wound up three feet from the hole,” Lee said.
After Johnson was unable to sink a long birdie putt and settled for par, Lee found himself standing over nearly the same-distance putt he missed earlier. He admitted the previous error was in the back of his mind as he stepped up with a chance for the win.
“Definitely, I was thinking a lot about that one,” Lee said. “I had that running through my head. I don't know what I would have done if I had missed that. I probably wouldn't have been able to come back.”
But the putt dropped, and Lee had outlasted the field for the victory.
Johnson and Holly finished tied for second at 6-under-par 210, while Ian Vandersee of West Des Moines, Iowa, and Harry Higgs of Overland Park, Kan., closed out the top of the Boys Division leaderboard in a tie for fourth at 5-under-par 211.
In the Girls Division, Then propelled herself back to the top of the leaderboard, where she sat after round one, with late birdies on Nos. 15 and 18. After finding her ball in the rough to the right of the cart path on No. 18, she dug into the ball with an iron and placed a brilliant approach shot off the right bank of the green and watched as the ball trickled back towards the cup. It was a play she attributed to luck as much as she did skill.
“I starting getting lucky bounces,” Then said. “My putts starting rolling in and I made a good birdie on the last hole.”
Coming into the final round, Then's goal was to shoot an even-par 70 and finish in second. It's safe to say she's happy she didn't achieve that.
“It means a lot to me. It's my first one [AJGA victory]. I've tried so many times and I've let a few go, finally I got one. I tried my hardest today; I gave it my all.”
Fighting hard until the end were Devon Brown of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and A Ram Choi of Surrey, British Columbia, who finished the tournament tied for second at 2-over-par 218.
The American Junior Golf Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf. The largest Association of its kind, the AJGA has an annual junior membership (boys and girls ages 12-18) of more than 5,000 junior golfers from 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries.
Titleist, the AJGA's National Sponsor, has been the catalyst and driving force behind the Association's success since 1989. Rolex Watch USA, which is in its third decade of AJGA support, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004. In 2007, after 12 years of support, Polo Ralph Lauren became the AJGA's second Premier Partner.
AJGA alumni have risen to the top of amateur, collegiate and professional golf. More than 200 former AJGA juniors currently play on the PGA and LPGA tours and have compiled more than 350 wins. AJGA alumni include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Cristie Kerr, Pat Hurst, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel and Julieta Granada.
For more information on the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship, please call AJGA National Headquarters at (770) 868-4200.